OPSEU Provincial Women's Committee

International Women’s Day: Celebrating the power of women

Barrie International Women's Day, Thursday, March 8

A message from the Chair, Provincial Women's Committee

It has been a year of unprecedented change in the lives of girls and women. Women have advocated for political change in global demonstrations in Women’s Marches, at #MeToo rallies, and most recently in protest of the acquittal of Raymond Cormier in the killing of Tina Fontaine, the 15-year-old from Sagkeeng First Nation.

Certainly, campaigns like #MeToo and #TimesUp on social media have demonstrated the power of women’s collective voice. The proliferation of allegations were made not only against film producer Harvey Weinstein, but extended to a slew of other corporate executives, Hollywood directors, TV show hosts, company bosses, and employers. The #MeToo campaign generated renewed awareness of the magnitude of the problem of sexual harassment and violence. Not just the magnitude of the problem, but also how ordinary and commonplace violence against women is. And the stories were not confined to Hollywood. We know that in Canada, 4 in 10 women endure gender-based violence in the workplace and most never lodge a formal complaint. Many fear being judged, barred from opportunities, fired, or retaliated against. Campaigns like #MeToo broaden the narrative and change the public discourse on violence against women. Women not only spoke out about their experiences but demanded change. Women no longer had to be afraid to name violence—on-line and in other platforms. Women reclaimed their voices so they could tell their stories and stand in solidarity with survivors.

As part of the #MeToo campaign, women have also gone public about disparities in income in comparison to men and have declared “Time’s Up” on the gender pay gap. We know that no matter how you crunch the numbers, regardless of sector, position, or number of working hours, women face a persistent pay gap at 31 per cent of the incomes men do. This is despite the fact that since 1991, the proportion of university-educated women has more than doubled and women’s participation in the labour market has increased to a remarkable 82 per cent, up from just 22 per cent at the turn of the century. Yet, progress on the pay gap has been unbelievably slow. Over the last half century, the gap has increased a paltry 10 per cent.

Racialized, Indigenous and women with disabilities are even further behind. Racialized women earn 62 cents on the dollar as compared to men. Indigenous women earn as little as 46 cents on the dollar, and the wage gap is as high as 75 per cent for women with disabilities as compared to men. But the numbers are only a small part of the picture. It’s important to remember the gender wage gap occurs alongside other gender-based violence like sexual harassment, racism and overt discrimination. Toxic workplaces cause women to leave their jobs and disrupt their careers. Women may lose their opportunity for promotion, seniority, pension, health and other benefits, or they may be driven out of their careers altogether.

We need to be mindful of the range of structural inequities that leave women with less economic security and economic power. We need to galvanize the power of the women’s movement on the streets and on social media to fight for those whose voices may not be heard, whose histories remain unacknowledged or who have been silenced. We know in the case of Tina Fontaine, as Grand Chief of Manitoba Keewatinw Okimakanak Sheila North said, “the system ultimately killed” her. This includes the failure of all systems that were involved in her life – from child welfare to policing to the poverty levels she and her family faced. It also includes the failure of the Trudeau government to implement a rights-based framework in addressing injustices faced by Indigenous people.

We must hear the voices of women who are most affected by violence, and to support community-based efforts to address all forms of harassment, discrimination, and racial violence against women and girls. Most of all, we need to galvanize the movements of women who have come before us and who continued to demand change.

To celebrate International Women’s Day with the Provincial Women’s Committee, please attend IWD events in your region http://opseu.org/news/international-womens-day-events

Please also stay tuned for the Provincial Women’s Committee campaign on the gender pay gap coming up in early April.